Having re-upped with Comcast Entertainment Group this spring, E! late night star Chelsea Handler is pitching the network on a few ideas she’s ginned up under the banner of her production company, Borderline Amazing.
In an interview with Mediaweek, the Chelsea Lately host said she would be meeting with E! higher-ups this week, with an eye toward gauging the network’s interest in a spin-off property. “I’m thinking maybe something along the lines of a Chelsea Lately ‘After the Show,’ kind of like the Oprah thing,” Handler says, adding that the project could be an opportunity to get more airtime for the roster of comedians who contribute to her show’s roundtable segment.
Handler is already prepping a Borderline Amazing comedy special for E!, featuring standup from Chelsea Lately regulars like Whitney Cummings, Loni Love and show writer Brad Wollack. An offshoot of the Chelsea Lately live comedy tour, Handler says the special may be spun off into a series if there’s interest.
Whatever else Handler pitches E!, she’s not angling for more screen time for herself. “The show’s a half hour, and we have the monologue and our roundtable and our guests and some of the stupid field pieces that I love to do. That’s a lot going on in a little bit of time, and I don’t want to screw with something that’s working so well,” Handler says. “If, in a couple years, we do an hour––which I can tell you is not so appealing to me––or if we go to a new network or whatever, then we can think about changing the format.”
For the near term, Chelsea Lately is staying put. In May, Handler signed a three-year extension with Comcast that will keep her on as host and executive producer of the late night show through 2012. She’ll also produce series for Comcast’s portfolio of cable networks, which includes Style Network and G4. Per terms of the deal, Comcast also has first-look rights to any Borderline Amazing projects.
After debuting in July 2007 in E!’s 11:30 p.m. slot, Chelsea Lately moved up to 11 p.m. in February of this year, upon which it began to enjoy a significant ratings boost. The show now draws around 900,000 viewers per premiere episode, up 64 percent over E!’s average 11 p.m. delivery a year ago.
As the lone female voice in late night, Handler enjoys a huge following among younger women. Per Nielsen, Handler serves up 38 percent more women 18-34 than CBS’ Late Show with David Letterman and 49 percent more women 18-34 than NBC’s Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. The cabler also out-delivers The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson and Jimmy Kimmel Live among adults 18-34 and is beating Last Call with Carson Daly among total viewers.
Of course, none of those draws are the result of head-to-head ratings comparisons. Handler heads off the air five minutes before Letterman starts his monologue, and the rest of the late-night boys’ club rolls out at staggered intervals thereafter. (Daly calls the insomniac’s hour home, lifting off every night at 1:36 a.m. ET.)
While Handler downplays the importance of landing high-profile couch talent (“I don’t want to be married to having a guest on every night”), Chelsea Lately bookers have the latitude to draw from a more select pool of bold-face names. (Next month, Jennifer Aniston is scheduled to come on to promote her new movie, Love Happens.)
If much of Handler’s appeal lies in her enthusiasm for eviscerating some of pop culture’s more ridiculous figures––her pet name for MTV curiosities Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag is “Herpes Simplex 1 and Herpes Simplex 2”––the comedienne says she won’t tee off on just anyone. “I’m not going after a Reese Witherspoon or a Jennifer Garner, because they’re not assholes,” Handler says. “But if there’s someone out there who has a behavior issue that keeps raring its ugly head, like a Katie Heigl situation, then it’s, like, hey she’s ridiculous. She’s fair game.”
Handler is just as politic when it comes to content issues. “There have definitely been times where the network has said, ‘don’t push it’ with certain things, and if they ever want me to take it down a notch, of course I will,” Handler says. “There are ways to be creative and edgy without pissing people off. And without advertisers, we don’t have a show.”
Chelsea Lately’s sponsors are an eclectic bunch. During the July 28 episode, in which Little House on the Prairie alum Melissa Gilbert talked up her new memoir, the spot load included ads for Subway and the Church of Scientology.